The Texas Rangers are going to the first ALCS since 2011 and boy does that feel good to type. So much heartbreak has happened since then. The 2011 World Series championship that wasn't, the way the Ron Washington era ended, game 5 of the 2015 ALDS, and then the six consecutive losing seasons. Last night for fans it was a mutual healing session from all of that.
Three years ago this organization had to sit back and watch other teams celebrate playoff success on their field. They saw the Dodgers win a World Series on their field. Tuesday night that success and celebration was all Texas. The 40k fans in the stands came to party and the Rangers provided the Creed discography to get down to. When Corey Seager hit his first inning home run the party was on. The music was turned up and the Rangers and their fans were celebrating. They celebrated Nathan Eovaldi in a way that has not been seen before at Globe Life Field and he deserved it. Texas now moves on to the ALCS, but before we can discuss that, lets wrap up this ALDS against Baltimore and how Texas was able to do something no team had done against the Orioles this season.
Nasty Nate shows up in a big game
I said in my preview for game three that the outcome of the game would be heavily on Nathan Eovaldi's shoulders. Texas had come home before with chances to clinch and those pitchers could not live up to the moment. They had previous home games to start series and some of those pitchers had failed. Last night it was going to be up to Eovaldi to close this series down.
Eovaldi set the tone early with two strikeouts in the first inning. I did not like a lot of what Hall-of Famer John Smoltz said last night, but he did point out one thing that Texas took advantage of. Adley Rutschman, the star Orioles' catcher, rarely swings at the first pitch. Rutschman in 2023 had 588 at-bats and in only 78 of those at-bats did he swing at the first pitch. That works out to just 7.5% of his at-bats. In these three game that trend went extreme as Rutschman never swung at the first pitch in any at-bat this series. Rutschman contributed to Eovaldi's strong start with a strikeout in the first. The inning finished up with a strikeout of Ryan Mountcastle.
Corey Seager got the scoring started in the first with a home run to deep right field that set the party off and gave Eovaldi an early lead. Armed with that lead Eovaldi went on the attack. He was in the strike zone for his entire appearance. This is his pitch chart for the game.
He practically lived in the strike zone all night. Texas being able to add to their lead in the second with a five-run second made it an easy night for Eovaldi. That inning was highlighted by the Nathaniel Lowe 15-pitch AB. Through four innings he had thrown 51 pitches with 41 of those being strikes. He finished with the highest percentage of strikes for a pitcher in any playoff start since 2000 according to Sarah Langs.
Eovaldi relied heavily on his 4-seam fastball which averaged 95mph, but was still hitting 97mph in his last inning. He had everything working on the night. He was rarely in trouble. He did give up a few hits, but rarely with less than two outs. Baltimore was not able to put pressure on him throughout the night. They did score a run in the fifth with a Gunnar Henderson RBI single, but Rutschman then grounded out to end the inning.
The highlight of the night was in the seventh. It was clear as his pitch count approached 90 that it would be his last inning. He was giving it everything he had to finish it out rather than having to be taken out. He struck out Austin Hays to start the inning, got Cedric Mullins to fly out, and then went up against one of the Orioles' top prospects in Jordan Westburg. The count went to 3-2 and then became a battle of who would blink first. The pitch count approached 10 and Westburg was still battling. Finally on pitch 11, Eovaldi put it to an end.
He struck out Westburg for his seventh strikeout of the night and he walked to the dugout after an emphatic fist pump. With the crowd chanting his name he came out for a curtain call, He earned every bit of it. Seven innings, one run, seven strikeouts, and zero walks. He followed up his series clinching win against the Rays with an even better start on Tuesday night.
Texas does something no other baseball team could do against Baltimore
Eovaldi was lifted from the game after the curtain call. He was relieved by Aroldis Chapman who could not finish out the eighth. That trade just continues to not work out as Chapman has been very erractic. He loaded the bases and was then removed for Jose Leclerc who got a ground out of Aaron Hicks to end the inning.
Texas took a 7-1 lead to the ninth with closer Jose Leclerc on the mound. Leclerc got two quick outs of Hays and Mullins. That brought up Westburg back up to the plate. He had the 11 pitch strikeout in the seventh. This time he came up to the plate as the Orioles last chance. He did not extend the at-bat to 11 this time. Leclerc struck him out on three pitches and the players were able to celebrate with another mound celebration for the third time in the last two weeks.
Texas with this win secured not only a series win, but also a series sweep of the Baltimore Orioles. It was the first time the Orioles had been swept all season long. They had not experienced a sweep since May 13-15th in the 2022 season against the Detroit Tigers. That is an unbelievable run and makes what Texas just did even more special.
What is next for Texas?
Texas now gets some well deserved rest. They missed out on that by losing the last game of the season against Seattle and had to rush to their wild card series and then to Baltimore. Now the team will have probably three days at home before leaving for Houston or Minnesota. It is not time to shut it down though. They will be playing in the ALCS for the first time since 2011 and are now four wins away from a unexpected World Series appearance.
There should be injury news coming out in the coming days regarding Max Scherzer. He is supposed to throw a simulated game on Wednesday to get an idea if he will be an option in this upcoming ALCS. Ken Rosenthal reported that Jon Gray is on track to be ready to go in the ALCS as well. Texas could be entering the ALCS as healthy as they have been since that week after the trade deadline before Josh Jung suffered a broken thumb.
Texas will find out who they will play either on Wednesday or at the latest on Friday night if Minnesota is able to force this back to Houston for a decisive game 5. Until then Texas will be waiting around and going through preparation meetings and workouts as they look forward to Sunday and the start of the ALCS.